Enough time has passed since an unexpected resignation from one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. I’d like to share some thoughts and my personal experience with all those scientists who — like me at the time — are thinking about their next bold move in their career and are contemplating spending part of their life in corporate industry. Here are the lessons that I learned and that helped me with being who I am today.
#1 Becoming more conscious about time
Time matters in corporate industry. Despite the large amount of meetings and chats with colleagues, time is an important asset in any industry. Honestly estimating the time required is important to correctly allocate resources appropriately for a given objective. Make sure to understand how decisions are made and resources are allocated when considering corporate employment.
#2 Networking is essential
Networking is a must in industry. It doesn’t matter if you are a social animal or a lone wolf. Hanging out with colleagues makes you grow closer and feel more aligned with the company’s vision, whatever it is. Wherever politics dictate the dynamics of a business, people involved in it acquire a key role in the process. I learned that whether you like it or not, people feel the need of meeting and chatting and spending time together, especially those ones who want to protect their status quo within the organisation.
#3 Presenting your work is as important as getting s**t done
Slides, or The powerpoint, are one of the most used tools that corporate people use during their workday.
Presenting your work is as important as making it. And that’s what slides are made for. Such a statement, that has been told to me a number of times, really didn’t make much sense to me, at the beginning. I believed that it would have been more relevant to sales reps, who indeed have a bunch of slides and little time to present and convince their potential customers. I also believed that such a situation applied less to engineers (unless they’re talking to other engineers — and presentations for those people are not exactly the same ones that managers have in mind).
Steve Jobs showed bad ass slides during his keynotes, while he was selling iPhones and iPods. In order to produce ideas, however, he used the whiteboard because he hated slides. Regardless of such undeniable lessons that history taught to all of us, most of corporate people seem to enjoy slides very much. As a note, green and blue can be deceiving in a presentation.
#4 The reward-for-merit equation not always applies
People never reward you for how much you are really worth but for how much they think you are. With this said, I came to the conclusion that technical skills do not always pay back proportionally, especially in those companies where leadership is the currency for reward. Specifically, being highly skilled in artificial intelligence, deep learning and advanced machine learning can be extremely valuable for some companies and just ok for others. Several large organisations do not have strict technical requirements in many of their departments. This in turn leads to pay better rewards to project managers rather than scientists and engineers. Moreover highly technical individuals might find a hard ground in sensitising colleagues and especially their managers about disruptive technologies and the impact they might have. Again, only few companies truly understand AI and what can AI do for them. Many of them are just blabbering about it, driven by the fear that their competitors will find those advantages before them. This misconception leads to a reward-for-merit equation that is harder to grasp.
#5 Things move at a slow pace
In very large corporations events are paced very slowly. This is due to the size of the organisation and the complex internal bureaucracy that regulates several aspects of their business. Such a slow pace is likely reflected in careers and promotions (except when politics is involved and bureaucracy suddenly becomes less of an issue). The variable time — absolutely not negligible — plays a very important role in the process. If you are a runner by nature, prepare to slow down, if you can, or run somewhere else. Moreover, the slower pace of large organisations usually gives the feeling that processes are more complicated than they should be. Pace (as well as quality of work) is a very important aspect of the business. A large corporation have an inertial pace that is difficult if not impossible to change.
#6 Good enough is just great
In corporate industry people have the tendency to do what is guaranteed to work, in order to lower the risks of failure or just respect the strict deadlines across the organisation. This in turn might flatten many other aspects of the business, pulling a break to potentially disruptive ideas. From another perspective, managers tend to hire individuals who are good enough to solve their problems and reward them at the pace their supervisors dictate, while taking almost 100% of the credit. Individuals who are likely to be better than them are considered aliens or dangerous and usually invited to follow rather than lead. In one word slowdown.
#7 People on high-alert mode
In corporate industry it is very common to be surrounded by people always capturing the events around them, a better position that suddenly becomes free, a story that shows one of their competitors/colleague in bad light, the smell of an imminent promotion (which might lead to the very common activity usually referred to as brown nosing), etc. Dealing with such individuals is an art and quite a hard one. These folks are usually obsessed by their own status and career and they live as if nothing should stop them. If that’s the case, starting a war will be the cutest of the events.
Working in corporate industry can be an interesting adventure regardless of the politics and the many useless and time consuming aspects that make the game. It is definitely a vaccine that people need to swallow for a while, in order to understand how science is done in industry and how it should be done in ideal environments. Whatever you decide at first place for your career, you don’t have to stay stick to that forever. Just recognize your power and values and move on. Never stay where you are just because it is good enough.
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